2011 International Conference on Supercomputing (ICS’11)

This year’s ICS has been in Tucson, AZ. I have served on the program committee and also contributed two papers (one with Marc Snir and the other one with the folks from IU) to the conference. I also co-chaired a workshop with Kamil Iskra. So I had tons of reasons to go there — I wasn’t very thrilled about the location (isn’t Arizona a boring desert, eh?). And actually, it’s not too easy to get to Tucson, it was a 21 hour travel from Zurich *uff*.

Well, I was very surprised! The hotel was just amazing and the landscape even more. I would have never believed that such large cacti exist! I mean – wow! And they’re hundreds of years old. The pool was also amazing, during the day it was full of “tourists” and at night, many computer scientists accumulated around (and in) it :-). It was really nice!

The conference was amazingly well organized. Actually, this was one of the best (if not *the* best) conference I visited since a long time! Congratulations Dave!

Here are some pictures:

Anchorage, Alaska

I’ve been at IPDPS in Alaska this week. Actually, not just in Alaska but in *the* city in Alaska, Anchorage! Well, I was shocked, seriously. Achorage supposedly had 300.000 citizens, however, it seemed much smaller than Champaign or Chemnitz! There was really nothing happening there :-(. The mountains in the background are extremely nice, I agree.

The other nice things was that it was effectively light until 12am. It’s really weird when you step out of a bar at 11pm and it’s like noon …. well, one weird thing was that all the natives seem to be drunk after 10pm for some reason. As I said, a strange place!

The conference was amazing! It seemed to me as if I knew every other person. And the IPDPS 25th anniversary show and Moose and Awards sessions were just great (with the right people around ;-)).

This year, I was chairing the HIPS workshop there which also went extremely well! We had 58 attendees during the (excellent) keynote of John Mellor-Crummey!

Unfortunately, I had barely time to visit the wildlife, but we made a small trip. Here are some pictures to get an impression of Alaska (it’s basically like the Alps, nothing too special).

Interestingly, it wasn’t all that cold, around 12-15 degree Celsius. A fun fact is that Monday was colder in Champaign (10 degree Celsius) than in Alaska (14 degree Celsius) :-).

Yes, I have been there! Eklutna lake, near Anchorage!

Mountains …

More mountains …

View on the city (small, isn’t it?)

Even more mountains …

(Thanks to Jens and Thomas for the pictures, I forgot my camera …!)

Viva la Mexico! … and San Diego :)

This week I have been at the DOE ASCR Exascale meeting in San Diego. It was actually a very nice and informative meeting. I hope the strategy documents will be published soon. We identified a couple of challenges for Exascale (yes, more challenges :-)).

My flight was in the afternoon of the last day and nobody else was around that afternoon :-(. Well, so I decided to take the local commuter train to Mexico ($2.50 each way ;-)). It’s pretty cool, one usually doesn’t walk across international borders like this. The funny thing was that nobody cared when I walked into Mexico (the officer was sleeping), however, the controls to get back in the US were extremely strict so that there was a line of at least 1000 people and I would have missed my plane if I wouldn’t have walked to the front of the line (which worked surprisingly well).

Here are some pictures:
Apparently, the parking Lot and Mexico are the same direction 🙂

Glad that I didn’t come by car, seems like there are more serious controls.

The famous US-Mexican border, well, not too spectacular.

Walking through those prison-bar things is actually fun, and they twist rather fast if you want ;-).

The border stone, not sure why it says something about water commission there??

The only Mexican guard (the immigration officer was sleeping on his chair a bit further but they didn’t want me to take pictures. Too bad. Btw., this guy had a G3 *lol*.

Very very inviting … really. I read that many people are robbed in this area.

But they had a gigantic flag! Viva la Mexico!

Well, time to go home (there was really not much to see actually — but the food was just *awesome*. I love *real* Mexican food now! Cilantro is not that bad if it’s used in the right combination.). Those signs were actually very helpful for dumb tourists like me.

Taco Bell has a branch in Mexico. If they know?

Probably Tijuana’s main sight, well, kinda sad but it’s humongous and the steel rods make funny noises in the wind.

Again, good that I didn’t go by car, the line into the US was hideous and sneaking to the front seems harder by car ;-).

All-in-all an experience that I didn’t want to miss. I didn’t have much time though, but I guess Tijuana is not that touristy in general ;-).

SC10 Best Paper

Yes, we received the SC10 Best Paper Award for our paper “Characterizing the Influence of System Noise on Large-Scale Applications by Simulation”. Congratulations also to Timo and Andrew! SC10 is the premier international venue for HPC research and development. Only 50 of the 253 submitted papers have been accepted at SC10 and it was very nice to hear that our paper was one of the best paper nominees (each track nominated a best paper), but I didn’t expect that we would be best of all the nominees! The final decision was made after the presentations. My talk was in a way too small room which was completely packed (people were standing at the wall and sitting on the floor in the aisle). The room was “allowed to” host 150 people (sign at the wall) but there were at least 250 in there :-). Glad that there was no firefighter around. Well, the air got rather bad after ten minutes ;-). The talk itself went extremely well, I was right in time and the audience had a lively discussion that I merely moderated (many questions trying to pinpoint flaws were actually answered by the audience :-)). That was really enjoyable.


Generally, I really enjoyed SC this year, I have had so many meetings that I was barely able to check the show-floor for goodies. New Orleans was also great (well, my hotel was, let’s say “suboptimal”, but it was very cheap). I’m looking forward to next year!

Washington … finally!

Well, I’ve been to Washington more than once, but I finally found the time to actually check out the city (the flight arrived Sunday noon and the first thing on the agenda was Sunday evening :-)). It’s a very nice city. It’s very nice for walking around and well connected by subway. I did miss the Pentagon though (well, next time :-)). Here are some pictures:
The workshop was at the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Agency). That was somewhat strange … it didn’t quite look like a hotel but it has an attached hotel (in the large building) and meeting rooms. Kind of cool and highly guarded (one has to check in with security first ;-)).

The white house — it looks much larger in the news. It’s actually really tiny in reality.

The strange guy talking (insulting) trash in front of the house is of course not missing. The Secret Service was also around and didn’t remove him … weird.

They were just standing there.

And of course, the snipers on top of the house ;-). I was expecting that they are hidden better … well.

Heavily armed cars :-).

This is clearly stolen from Berlin (Siegessaeule)!

The Washington monument. That looks actually much much smaller on TV. It’s really huge in reality. One can go up for free … if one stands in a lint at 8:30 am :-(. How stupid …

Of course, the flags are not missing … the thing in the back is the Lincoln memorial. Quite a bit of a walk.

The WWII memorial, Indiana and Illinois.

The infamous Lincoln.

Korean war memorial, this is really well done.

The capitol on the other side of the Washington memorial.

Nice city!

Indianapolis Airport Backscatter X-Ray Fun

When I was travelling to Washington today, I had a fun experience at the Indianapolis airport. Well, the first real fun thing is that this stupid CLEAR thing is dead (this was where you could buy yourself into a priority lane at the security checkpoint). Well, the second nice thing was that preferred (status) customers can now use the retired CLEAR lane (yeah, I was at the top of the line ;-)).

However, the TSA officer directed me to a line that lead to a Backscatter X-Ray scanner. So first, I don’t really mind the scanner too much … well, kinda … it takes nice pictures of your girlfriend.

However, there was a huge sign “We respect your privacy and the use of the scanner is optional”. Well, so I decided to not follow the 300 lb guy in front of me (I am wondering if the officers checking the scans get extra pay). The “normal” metal detector right next to it was empty anyway. So what I did was just walk by the officer at the scanner and said that I’ll just use the metal detector instead. Wow, what followed was really unexpected. She shouted “code 5” at me (as if I knew what that meant) while I proceeded through the metal detector. This apparently meant that I had to go through a manual search … because I refused to use the backscatter x-ray … so much about “optional” and “respect privacy”.

The manual search was really funny. The guy apologized for every single time he touched “sensitive areas” and explained that he would use the back of his hand *lol*. Of course, I kept complaining and eventually talked to the boss of the checkpoint (without much success). He even mentioned that backscatter will not be optional after the testing period. I’ll check Chicago next week but I haven’t seen them there yet.

Update: Btw., Europe is *not* better. Well, at least when you travel to the US. I was going back from Italy through Amsterdam where they had the same things at the gate! Yes, at the gate. Because apparently there are some silly US rules that they have to have a higher security. Refusing to go through was even funnier. So I had a family in front of me and they made the grown-ups go through the scanner while the children were just led through the metal detector (which was closed and they had to turn on for every single use). Well, ok. So I told them that I have concerns about my privacy and health and didn’t want to go through (remember, it’s Europe and there should be some laws … I hope). So they started discussing and showed me the screen of the thing. Well, how could I know what happens to the pictures that were *not* on the screen??? Then they started to explain me that this scanner would work with sonic waves … however, the label clearly said “backscatter” so I didn’t quite trust them. Then I asked why children don’t go through that thing and the answer of the “checkpoint lead” was *very funny*: they’re too small and the scanner can’t reach them. The next thing was that they wanted to deny boarding … fine. I demanded to talk to an airline representative what to do about it and suddenly I got my manual search. They said something in Dutch that I didn’t get … but the search was very thorough. I also had to take my shoes off while everybody else who walked through the scanner that “can’t scan children because they’re too small” did not take their shoes off. Well ,I started arguing again but all I got was “that’s a US regulation”. Very funny. So small terrorists, it’s not rocket science how to game those rules ;-).

Update2: I had four more of those “refusing to go through backscatter” at different US airports … and I have to say that I never went through one. However, I got a private search every single time I refused. And I heard that they’ll be mandatory soon … they also reached Germany (Hamburg) :-(. Well, well, there goes our freedom due to our fears.

Update3: My server is suffering from the fefe effect, so I apologize for any waiting time :-).

Update4: The picture above is apparently a fake — never trust BILD! Sorry, only in German. (Thanks Hanno)

American Food (again), HFCS, and more fun

Those who know me know that I’m usually careful about nutrition. I visited some friends in Indiana last week and my host (Nick) invited me to home-grown squashes, turnip greens and zucchinis. Man, I’m jealous … it inspired me to finally begin my herb garden project. And here it is, my first american herb garden:

Ok, it’s a single Basil plant. But hey, I have harvested three times in the last week (two salads and spaghetti). I also seeded parsley and am planning to extend it next week if I have time (a second pot).

The one thing I like most about food here right now is that all watermelons are awesome and cheap! Not like in Germany where 4 out of 5 melons taste like cardboard and cost a fortune. I even tasted a yello watermelon last week – looks very weird (like yellow text marker):

But tastes very very nice!

Hunts sells a new Ketchup brand since last month:

I’m sure that the HCFS mafia, aehem, the Corn Refiners Association does not like this very much. There are also two recent studies that seem interesting: High Fructose Corn Syrup Linked to Liver Scarring, Research Suggests and
High-Fructose Corn Syrup Prompts Considerably More Weight Gain, Researchers Find. And the corn mafia^W^WCorn Refiners Association is quick at pointing out flaws (1, 2) in the studies :-). This is close to ridiculous. Only one thing is better: http://www.sweetsurprise.com/. I mean if everything would be ok, why do I need to advertise that nothing is wrong ;-). This page is generally very entertaining with regards to its independence (check “Science and Research” for anything negative, i.e., the two studies cited above; so far about “full list of results”). The wikipedia page is also worth a read. I’m simply amazed!

U-C is crazy … Strange Accident on Elm and Springfield

The second strange thing since I moved here two months ago. Well, I was working as usual … and suddenly heard a really loud bang. My reaction was to check the weather (online) if there was a thunderstorm. Nope … ok, more working. Then I heard several Police sirens, and they stopped nearby. Of course, I checked and saw police cars next to my apartment. Eleven at night is not the typical time to socialize with your neighbors but everybody was on the street. There was a car wreck, a complete wreck! And some eye witnesses who told me that the crash happened probably after a pick-up which was speeding down Springfield (guessed >80 mph) apparently chased by a Sheriff hit another pick-up in the side. I was told that the driver of the one truck ran away naked (?) but was caught soon after. The other guy was pulled out of the second truck by the rescue unit. We hope he survived. Here are some pictures …

The truck on the right seems to have caused the accident.

Someone being arrested.

The truck was missing the back axis (!). The thing on the right is the tool-box and a wheel and an oil can were about 50m (!) away.

Some links:

Not an April fool’s joke …

Wow, the weirdest April 1st ever. I was just biking to UIUC and saw somebody jumping from one of the tallest buildings in Urbana-Champaign. Around 9:10am, he decided to jump from Burnham 310 (an 18-story apartment building) right when I was biking by (like every morning). I didn’t really see which floor he came from as I only heard him screaming. I believe I heard at least 2 seconds of scream with a Doppler Effect. I had enough time to locate him while falling down and hitting the flower-bed with numb noise about 20m away from me (I biked on the other street-side). I stopped in shock (there was another guy much closer who seemed also shocked, and a police car). Before I decided to go and see if the person was alive, I heard the ambulance (it took less than 60 seconds to arrive, amazing). From all I could see, he hit the ground head-first (seemed like from a height of 50m) so I wouldn’t expect that he was alive. I left the site after the ambulance arrived but I’m available for a police interview if needed (I don’t really know more than I wrote here though).

Update: it seems like the man survived even though he jumped twice (landed on the smaller building and jumped again).

Update 2: the man (a Civil Engineering Ph.D. candidate) died in the hospital.


Two pictures from the building:
and the broken window: